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    the e-⁠Residency underdog

    E-⁠resident Bostjan Belingar is founder of eCommerce email marketing agency Hustler Marketing, which has a globally distributed team and clients on five continents

    Photo courtesy of Bostjan Belingar

    Estonian e-resident Bostjan Belingar is in Bangkok these days. He came for a conference, but decided to stay because he likes the weather. He also likes the street food, the sweet sticky mango rice and fresh coconut juice, and the motorbike taxis. For the past three winters, he's been in Mexico, for much the same reasons. "There's something about cold weather that makes me lethargic," Bostjan admits.

    Bostjan does not like to be lethargic; he prefers the fast-paced world of eCommerce. In 2017, he founded Hustler Marketing, a DFY (done-for-you) eCommerce email marketing agency that provides services for eCommerce stores worldwide. Over the past five years, the company has scaled from a handful of freelance gigs to a roster of 75 clients on five continents. While the company is registered in Estonia and the US, Hustler Marketing's team is based in more than 20 countries. Bostjan manages it from wherever he happens to be.

    Bostjan was born and raised in Slovenia and was living in Spain when he founded Hustler Marketing. This was why location-independence was an important reason he chose to become an Estonian e-⁠resident.

    While he had studied in Lithuania for a year on an exchange program, and was familiar with Estonia and the Baltic region, Bostjan says that he doesn't actually recall how he heard about the e-⁠Residency program. He knew it existed though. He also knew about Estonia's favorable tax climate for entrepreneurs.

    "In certain Estonian setups, the profit of the business isn't taxed," Bostjan notes. "That's really good for emerging businesses because you can scale easily," he says.

    "Estonia was everything I needed. Everything was online, and understandable, tax-wise."

    Bostjan only needed to go to Estonia once to open a bank account and pick up his e-⁠Residency card. It happened to be in the winter, though, and he returned quickly to sunny Barcelona.

    Despite Estonia's Nordic climate, Bostjan has nothing but praise for the country's e-⁠Residency program. It's allowed him to manage an international team of contractors, rapidly scale his business to 70 employees, and do it all from anywhere --  really anywhere -- in the world,

    "e-Residency is easy, and I mean stupid easy. Especially if you are a freelancer and have a smaller team, Estonian e-Residency is really good because you don't have a lot of moving pieces."

    Hustler Marketing was once such an operation. Bostjan founded it when he was in his mid-twenties. By that time, he had been a social worker, a bartender, and a street performer. He'd even taken part in a second-phase drug trial in the UK, where he got to stay in an upscale hospital and was paid a handsome £5,000. The only drawback was having blood drawn three times a day.

    He wanted more, and he wanted to be financially secure and less dependent on such side gigs. He turned to online marketing, where he had gained some experience via working as a video editor with several well known YouTubers.

    "Internet marketing is not what it used to be, but you can still make tons of money on the internet," Bostjan says. Indeed, the internet eclipsed the age of television marketing, he says, but with the bonus of attribution, meaning that it is possible to calculate return on investment per channel. This was then his new world, a world of email marketing, creative strategies, unmissable emails, and a data and metrics-based approach toward designing email flows and campaigns, not to mention big paychecks. Customers were new eCommerce players as well as established clients who wanted to get more out of e-marketing.

    Bostjan christened the outfit Hustler Marketing, not in homage to the men's magazine founded by Larry Flynt in the 1970s, but in tribute to his own relentless drive to succeed. "I was living with three guys in Barcelona and we always called ourselves hustlers," he says. "We hustled, we worked hard, we found underdog ways of making it."

    Some of them, he acknowledges, have even been too successful and found themselves in the unenviable position of having more money than they know what to do with. They experience the personal crises usually only familiar to pensioners, who after a lifetime of work and career suddenly have nothing to do but sit at home, feeling restless and dissatisfied, or just plain bored. "Exiting is actually tough on most people," remarks Bostjan. "You used to wake up with all of the ambition and then there's nothing."

    Fortunately, that is not in Bostjan's plans and he remains committed to Hustler Marketing. He has also accumulated enough experience in his three decades to give other entrepreneurs advice. His number one message is to focus on sales, sales, and more sales. Bostjan has seen too many entrepreneurs get lost in the minutiae of designing logos and websites, or shopping around for the best tax environments, while never selling a single thing. "You need to make sales first," Bostjan says. "Then you can look at logos and websites."

    Running an international business, he notes, can be quite lucrative for any would-be Estonian e-resident. "If your talent pool is the entire world, you can make some good margins there, which is obviously what all the big companies and corporations have done for a long time," says Bostjan. He also advises that management take into account the tax and social benefit systems of contractors' countries of residence when calculating salaries.

    There is also the issue of keeping everybody in line, which is still possible, even if you are running a company incorporated in Estonia from a hotel room in Thailand. Bostjan has lots of Zoom calls with Hustler Marketing's workforce, and uses time tracking apps, like Hubstaff, to ensure employees are putting in the hours necessary to keep business humming along.

    As for Bostjan, Bangkok is just a sunny stop on the road of life. He's not sure where he will go next, but it might very well be Slovenia. "I haven't been home for eight years," says Bostjan. "It's calling me."

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